The simple truth is that this election turned out pretty much the way that the economic models suggested it should. The GOP had deluded itself into believing that 2012 was a “gimme” — and to be sure, it was winnable. Team Romney made some mistakes and failed to capitalize on opportunities. But overall, the result wasn’t out of line with what we’d expect from a tepid economy (this also cuts against the “demographics” argument; if demographics were becoming the GOP’s main problem, the GOP would increasingly run behind what the economy suggested it “should”).
Of course, this tells us nothing about where we go from here. It may well be that 2012 heralds a new coalition (which has been predicted since 2001) that pushes the party inexorably downward from what will eventually be remembered as a peak. Or it could be that we are seeing the emergence of a “presidential,” pro-Democrat electorate and a “midterm,” pro-GOP electorate.
Or it could be, as Sides reminds us, that we are just seeing an “Obama coalition” that is specific to him. Put differently, 2008 happened, as did 2012. But so did 2009 and 2010. As Sides succinctly put it, “a realignment doesn’t take midterm elections off.”